The year is 1860. Daya (Sharmila) is the daughter in law of an upper class Bengali family. Her husband has progressive ideas and dreams of going to England. While he is away to Calcutta, Daya's father in law has a dream that Daya is an incarnation of the goddess Kali. As a lifelong devotee of the diety he develops an overpowering conviction. Patriarch that he is, soon everybody, including Daya is convinced about the authenticity of the vision. In no time at all she becomes an object of devotion for the countryside as people in hundreds stream to the place where she remains seated all day long to be worshiped. To top it all, she becomes the instrument of a seemingly miraculous cure when a child who is supposedly dead is revived by her ministration. And much more.
The film is deeper than a mere condemnation of superstition. We see an entire community gripped by religious fervor nourished by an apparent miracle. It is a powerful and authentic portrait of the minds of people in the period depicted. This is a dark and brooding movie pervaded with religious symbolism which examines the deeper layers of the human psyche from a rational yet sympathetic viewpoint. Ray is not seeing the medieval mind from the viewpoint of a westernized intellectual that he was. He feels it from inside--he is almost one of the milling crowds that throng towards the devi. We are too as we listen to the intoxicating devotional melodies and participate in the shared beliefs that must have offered solace and warmth, if not hope, in those benighted times. Ray is not given to judgementalism. He never repeats himself and this is another unique and unforgettable film.